Fresh-faced Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow will look to end the Bengals NFL championship drought while the Los Angeles Rams’ Matthew Stafford sets his sights on winning the Lombardi Trophy on the team’s home field in the Super Bowl.
When the dust settled on one of the most compelling playoffs in recent memory, the league was left with the unlikely pairing of two fourth-seeded teams and two quarterbacks at different stages of their careers.
Burrow was selected No.1 overall by the Bengals in the 2020 draft in the hopes that he could develop and eventually lead the team to their maiden championship.
A knee injury kept him sidelined for much of his rookie year but he bounced back to exceed expectations this season, and his unflappable demeanour and fashion choices have quickly made “Joe Cool” the darling of the NFL.
He will need all the poise he can muster to out-duel Stafford and overcome a ruthless Rams defence.
A big question is whether Burrow’s offensive line will be able to protect him from the Rams star-studded defence led by three-time defensive player of the year Aaron Donald and mid-season acquisition Von Miller.
Burrow was sacked a league-leading 51 times during the regular season and nine times by the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.
“We’d like to start fast,” Burrow told reporters this week.
“They have a really good pass rush so when they know that a team is dropping back and throwing the ball, they can tee off, so we want to get off to a strong start.”
To keep the Rams defence guessing, the Bengals will look to establish a running game with Joe Mixon to allow Burrow and his favourite target, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, more opportunities.
Stafford’s road to the Super Bowl has been a longer and more bumpy one than Burrow’s.
The 34-year-old spent 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, where he went winless in three playoff appearances.
Last off-season the Rams traded for Stafford in the hope that an upgrade at quarterback could help win the franchise a first Super Bowl title since returning to LA after 21 seasons in St. Louis.
Despite a relatively dispiriting finish to the regular season, the Rams crushed the Arizona Cardinals in the wild-card game, barely survived a comeback by Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and were forced to battle back against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
Despite the close calls, Stafford said he felt great about his team chances and was thrilled to have the good fortune of playing a Super Bowl at their very own SoFi Stadium.
“It’s never perfect, it’s never easy,” Stafford said.
“This team has sacrificed a lot and gone through a lot to get to this point, and we’re excited to get to do it in our home stadium.”